Carbon Impact Study of Campus Waste Streams

A systemic analysis of campus waste...

A Carbon Impact Study of Campus Waste Streams is a Neutrality goal in the Cornell Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Complete a carbon impact study for Cornell’s waste stream to establish a baseline of GHG emissions associated with the current waste stream.

Goal: Quantify carbon impacts associated with the campus waste stream in order to identify opportunities to better manage Cornell’s waste and reduce emissions.

Cornell’s 2009 and 2011 Climate Action Plans did not account for the impacts of the campus waste stream on the university’s carbon emissions. To better inform decision making on campus, the Waste Team is currently conducting a systemic analysis of campus waste, including the impact of waste operations on Cornell’s GHG emissions. This waste impact study can serve as the foundation for improved management of university materials. The study can help Cornell to identify and quantify waste streams which are not currently being optimally utilized. Some of these waste streams may potentially serve as additional feed stocks for CURBI (Cornell University Renewable Bioenergy Initiative), or for local non-profit and for-profit ventures. For example, wastewater from the digester at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine is now being delivered to the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Facility, where it serves as an energy source, and surplus furniture from campus was recently donated to the Finger Lakes Fresh Food Hub to outfit their new facility.

Cornell’s R5 Operations (Respect, Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) is working with Cornell’s Facilities Engineering Department, with vendors, and with campus partners to prepare an Ithaca Campus GHG Waste Inventory. The Cornell Solid Waste Institute is working to identify the carbon impacts related to the campus compost stream. The inventory will identify and collect metrics for all non-hazardous/non-medical wastes on campus.

Once completed, this inventory can be used to analyze current business decisions the university makes regarding its waste handling procedures and contracts. For example, the primary landfill the university contracts with in Ontario County captures methane, which reduces carbon impacts. Both the data itself and the methodology for collecting and interpreting the data may be useful to the Tompkins County Solid Waste and Recycling Department, to both local and benchmark colleges and universities, and to University vendors.

Next Steps

  • Identify the parameters of the study, identify all non-hazardous/non-medical wastes, and collect metrics for all wastes.
  • Complete the Ithaca Campus GHG Waste Inventory and use the results to analyze current waste management practices, contracts, underutilized waste streams, and opportunities to reduce waste and associated carbon impacts.


Think through how best to complete the study, including the feasibility of utilizing student assistance to compile the necessary data from campus sources and vendors.